SOUTH TAMPA — Lots of folks daydream about quitting their jobs to play with dogs, but shortly after moving to Florida 15 years ago, Natalie Conner actually did it.
She had grown weary of corporate America and wanted to shift into something she loved. As a lifelong dog owner, she had often struggled to find a doggy day care that she trusted enough with her babies.
"I decided to build a dog resort that was in the same mindset of how I would want my own dogs to be treated," she said.
Love My Dog Resort opened its first location in St. Petersburg in 2008. A second facility in North Pinellas opened a year and a half ago, and now, the now-defunct Lucky Dog Pet Resort at 1116 W Fig Street in Tampa is Conner's newest location.
Lucky Dog closed this July after two dogs in its care were found dead from heat exhaustion. Conner bought out the company the week after, and has spent the last 12 weeks working tirelessly on redesigning the place, re-training staff members that weren't fired after the dog deaths and implementing strict new safety procedures.
"Things happened here," Conner said of Lucky Dog, which had been in business for six years under its previous owners and, according to Conner, lost two-thirds of its business after the dog deaths. "I wanted to build a nice, safe facility to bring new standards of safety and luxury to the south Tampa area."
Conner has four rescue dogs of her own.
"I wanted a resort that really drilled down to the individual dog's needs," she said. "You can't just shove it in a group and hope for the best."
With that in mind, there are 16 different inside playgroups and 17 separate outside play areas for owners to choose from. Pups are placed in groups according to size, age, temperament and energy.
Daycare doggies get access to pools, shaded outdoor areas and inside rest areas, among other amenities.
"You may have a medium-sized dog, but he may be more shy than other medium-sized dogs," Conner said. "Let's put you with other shy dogs."
During the redesign process, she tried out 110 rooms to narrow down which would go in the 23,000-square-foot facility.
If South Tampa embraces Love My Dog, Conner hopes to add a water park, already featured at the North Pinellas location.
In addition to day care, Love My Dog offers grooming, training and overnight boarding. Owners can add on premium options like TV to keep their furbabies entertained and even a webcam to make sure all is well.
Conner encourages potential customers to come tour the new location anytime.
"If you're going to leave your dog somewhere, you need to know exactly where you're leaving it," she said. "It's your right."
The Oct. 14 grand opening was a party complete with a DJ and giveaways.
"A lot of people are hesitant after what happened at Lucky Dog, and I don't blame them," Conner said. "I get it. Just come take a look."
Day care services are available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
For more information, call the resort at (813) 258-3647 or visit Love My Dog Resort on Facebook.